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AMS Best Practices in Digital Scholarship

(Last updated 11/14/2016)

The AMS Committee on Technology has formulated a set of best practices for producing, publishing, and evaluating digital scholarship. While our recommendations are subdivided by audience, we recognize that several recommendations will be relevant to multiple audiences, and that many individuals play more than one role within the same project.

Best practices for various roles and organizations include:

For Publishers and Editors

1. Publishers can clearly explain in what forms and circumstances authors can circulate their work in advance of publication. In the absence of such statements, we think it best practice to understand forms of pre-publication such as public presentations, blog posts, working drafts, or versions of work shared via social media or institutional sharing sites as wholly separate from peer-reviewed publication.

2. Musicological work often involves the use of multimedia evidence that is essential to the argument at hand. Translating these expressions of thought to other media, such as static print and image, can lose the essence of research. Journals and publishing houses will publish and host multimedia evidence and be familiar with all legal issues (including allowable Fair Use) involved.

3. In publishing multimedia both publishers and authors can aim to strike a balance between ensuring sustainability and durability of resources and allowing for forms of expression whose long-term accessibility has not yet been demonstrated. Sustainable media forms are sometimes non-proprietary and/or widely used, with the best being both. For media such as images, sounds, and video, several sustainable formats are generally available. The lack of a durable format, for instance for interactive figures or for computer software, is not in itself a compelling reason not to include such evidence in the publication.

4. Publishers and scholars can consider in the peer-review process material that might eventually be hosted beyond the print or PDF product itself. In some instances, the software used to process a body of data or the ways that this software is used will need to be part of the peer review. Once work is accepted for publication, changes to this material (software, applications, etc.) will be reviewed by editorial staff to ensure accordance with the initial approved proposal while also permitting users to validate results obtained with the original system. Robust systems of effective dating and version control will help to clarify changes in software or other tools.

5. Reviews and discussions of digitally focused projects can clearly distinguish between those that announce a project to be completed and those that evaluate a project that is completed or at a sufficiently mature state to use the results (see below).

For University Committees (Hiring, Evaluation, and Tenure)

1. In the absence of more specific practices relating to musicology, the Modern Language Association’s “Guidelines for Evaluating Work in Digital Humanities and Digital Media” can be be followed.

These guidelines include four points for committees:

  • Delineate and communicate responsibilities
  • Engage qualified reviewers
  • Respect medium specificity when reviewing work
  • Stay informed about accessibility issues

and three for faculty candidates:

  • Ask about evaluation and support
  • Negotiate and document your role
  • Document and explain your work

2. Meanwhile, colleges and universities can craft and document written policies concerning the evaluation of online, digital, and otherwise non-traditional forms of scholarly communication (including those not subject to traditional peer review). Faculty can make themselves aware of institutional expectations for and modes of evaluating such non-traditional forms at the time of their appointment. The weight that will be given to a project of this type (as equivalent or not to a peer-reviewed paper, etc) is best clearly articulated to the researcher before the project begins. The written policies concerning the evaluation of non-traditional work can also be given to any external experts asked to take part in the assessment of a scholar's dossier or an individual project.

For Graduate (and Undergraduate) Program Directors

1. Programs can offer training in the digital tools of modern musicological work already at the outset of the curriculum. These tools include but are not limited to notation software, multimedia editing, using (if not creating) online databases, and general information literacy.

2. Students can receive instruction (or at least be pointed to resources) to educate them about intellectual and cultural property laws and protocols, licensing options, open-source work, and other best practices in scholarship and pedagogy.

For Musicologists

1. A digital project created by someone else can be cited in papers and publications if it proves useful to the scholar’s work, even if the same material could have been found elsewhere. For instance, a project making all of Liszt’s letters searchable would be cited even if the given letter could have been consulted in a printed source; what is significant is that it was found through a digital project, not that it could have been discovered elsewhere.

2. Scholars responsible for digital resources can clearly identify and explain the stages of development represented in their various manifestations. For instance: "Preliminary Working Model, version 1.0, launched September 1, 2014" or "Beta 2.0 version, updated August 15, 2015" or "dataset as presented at conference ABC, November 1, 2016", or other appropriate designation.

3. It is a good practice for all or nearly all aspects of a project to be released openly, so that data can be queried not only using the public web interface (if any), but also so that scripts or data might be re-used in other projects, subject to the particular intellectual property preferences of the creators (which are best when articulated clearly in the projects themselves).